On Sunday evening, the Saints' Twitter-sphere descended into panic after The Athletic's David Ornstein reported that “Spurs are thought to have put a £30m buy-back clause” in the deal that saw Kyle Walker-Peters move to the South Coast permanently in the summer of 2020.

Contracted to the club for three more years, Southampton certainly won't want to let Walker-Peters go this summer and with Spurs chasing Middlesbrough wing-back Djed Spence, it’s unlikely they’ll go back for their former player - buy-back or not.

But regardless, the panic is a window into the future. Whether or not it’s Walker-Peters, success building the way Southampton do will come with a cost. 

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Largely focused on recruiting some of the best young players in the country, buy-back clauses have become a major part of Saints’ recent business. Last summer it was Tino Livramento while already this summer both Gavin Bazunu and Romeo Lavia are thought to have had buy-back clauses inserted into their contracts by Manchester City.

The positive of this strategy is obvious; it’s allowing Southampton to actually get deals done for the young players they’re identifying. Granted he had only one year left on his deal but would Chelsea have allowed Livramento to depart (and for just £5m) without a buy-back option? City didn’t want to lose Bazunu - would that deal have happened without a buy-back clause?

We can’t definitively say no, but it’s hard to believe they would have agreed to such a low fee without the insurance.

Daily Echo: Walker-Peters in action for Saints this season. Image by: Stuart MartinWalker-Peters in action for Saints this season. Image by: Stuart Martin

But it’s not only the selling club that these deals are enticing. It’s selling the young players as well - on a path forward in their careers. The realities of the modern Premier League food-chain is that most players want to play in the Champions League and make the kind of money that accompanies that. They certainly don’t want to feel trapped. 

Just take a look at Wilfried Zaha. Crystal Palace have every right to keep Zaha until their valuation is met but virtually every transfer window his future becomes the topic once again. Reportedly, Zaha himself has asked to leave multiple times but each time Palace have stayed firm to their valuation and no reasonable bid has arrived. 

If you want to sell your club on why young players should trust you with their careers, then unfortunately upward mobility has to exist. You'd hope much of that can happen at the club itself - and Saints do seem to believe their model doesn’t compromise ambition. But the buy-back clauses - whether actually triggered by the club who raised the player or not - is a show of faith that Southampton will let the player move on.

As miserable as it is to already be planning a player’s departure when they sign, at times it’s a way to get the deal done or even the way to get a deal done.

READ MORE: Saints commitment to transfer strategy risky but admirable

Martin Semmens explained as much in January, speaking to the BBC.

"You have got to be real and honest with people, the way we have dealt with our fans and our community is just to be honest with people, our plan and what we are doing," Semmens said.

"The big question is do we plan to keep those players or do we want sell them? That's the most interesting bit of our club. People assume we just want to sell them to make money, but it has absolutely nothing to do with money. It is to do with the pathway.

"If you don't let Tino Livramento go to Liverpool one day when they come in for him, then the next one doesn't come in. We think about it, if you imagine a five-pointed circle, it is about finding the best young players in the world, providing the best environment for them, playing them, which is where Ralph [Hasenhuttl] comes in, because he leans across in those recruitment meetings and says 'I will play you in the Premier League' and then they come.

Daily Echo: Tino Livramento against Manchester United during the 21/22 season. Image by: Stuart MartinTino Livramento against Manchester United during the 21/22 season. Image by: Stuart Martin

"We then improve them on a daily basis and when Liverpool do call and say 'we want that player', you have to let them go, otherwise the next young one coming out of Man City's academy will go, 'well I don't want to come, because you won't let me go'

"So it is nothing to do with the money, we would much rather have that fantastic player, but if you don't give people the view that they could one day replace Sadio Mane at Liverpool, then they don't want to be here, they won't want to work.

"And that's what our pathway is about, once they get here."

Southampton are spending relatively large sums on young players because they believe in them to achieve big things and because they believe that the environment at the club will help them get there. They also believe at some point that means letting go.

That being said, it still has to be a good deal for Saints. And if the £30m figure quoted for Walker-Peters is accurate, then that’s an example of the opposite. After spending £12m to get him, a profit of just £18m for a player of his quality, versatility, and importance to the team would be far too low.

The Walker-Peters signing was an example of Southampton's strategy working. Prior to arriving at St Mary’s on loan, the full-back’s career was starting to stall at Tottenham. Then 23-years-old, Walker-Peters had made just 12 appearances for Spurs - he made ten on loan at Saints. Now, he’s an England international. But leaving for £30m would display the flaws in the strategy - if (or when) he eventually departs, Southampton should get more for a truly uniqe player.

Daily Echo: Walker-Peters on his England debutWalker-Peters on his England debut

The reported £25m buy-back in Livramento’s deal is another concern, but the quoted £40m+ options in Gavin Bazunu and Romeo Lavia’s contracts are more reasonable for Saints. Although the likelihood is that if either reach the level that City tend to buy at, that number will feel an undervaluation. 

The risks of this way of conducting business are clear. A great season could mean some of Southampton's best players all depart at once in relatively undervalued deals back to their former clubs. It takes the control out of Saints’ hands.

It also requires Southampton to continuously strike gold. Investing young naturally comes with inconsistency and mixed results as some reach their ceiling and others fail to do so - for whatever reason. Semmens talks about bringing in the ‘next’ Livramento and Saints are succession planning to some degree from the moment players arrive. 

Everyone connected to Southampton hopes James Ward-Prowse bucks the trend Semmens talks about, but the academy graduate is a unique case. 

With a host of young players arriving at the club this summer once again, we’ll get another chance to see if the Saints hierarchy strikes gold. The fate of the season relies on it and clearly behind-the-scenes there is confidence in the way they've rebuilt. Success would no doubt be vindicating as well as thrilling for supporters. It would also come at a cost.

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